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The Marketing Crisis of NFP

A few weeks ago, at a bachelorette party of all places, I was asked about NFP (Natural Family Planning).

Certainly not expecting the question in that element, and being a “halfway” user of NFP (charting generally, but not using contraceptives in any way), my answer was short and to the point: Yes (because explaining what we do was going to be far too complicated and we're eventually going to be "real" NFP users), that it was a sacrifice but totally worth it, and that I did not regret NOT being on birth control at all. Thankfully, the questioner accepted it, seemed interested in looking into it, and then blessedly changed the conversation.

So basically, my marketing of NFP was marginally successful, given the circumstances.

This year for NFP Awareness week, I’ve seen a lot of discussions about its misconceptions and the way it’s advertised to couples. I think that’s really helpful, but there’s also a lot of work to be done still in how we advertise this fertility awareness method.

To me, there seems to be three very different brand identities that NFP suffers from.

1. NFP is only for those really crazy Catholics. Like the ones who don’t even use birth control. It’s not a reliable healthcare opportunity, it’s based on the outdated rhythm method, and you’ll end up having ten children and needing a 15-passenger van to get around.

2. NFP is the greatest gift ever given to us by God. It always involves my husband and I holding hands in a beautiful meadow at sunrise for some reason. We had three children spaced exactly when we wanted them, and abstinence isn’t problematic at all. It brings us closer and makes our unity so much better when we finally come together.

3. NFP is Catholic birth control. (This one makes me pull my hair out. That’s literally the exact OPPOSITE of what it is.)

So what is NFP to do about that? Brand image is very much defined by its audience, and right now, NFP’s audience seems pretty confused.

Here are a few things I think people who are passionate about NFP and fertility awareness can do to help make the marketing narrative a bit more accurate and realistic:

  • For the love of all that is holy, please please PLEASE stop using advertisements for NFP that involve a couple holding hands in a sun-soaked field. (Now do you see the satire in my image for this post?) It doesn’t even make sense. No one is “practicing” NFP out in a public field. Please just stop. This is actually one of my pet peeves in general about anything related to marriage, especially among Catholics: We ONLY show wedding photos, yet talk ourselves blue in the face that weddings are a day and marriages are for life. But then go ahead and contradict ourselves by using a wedding photo as the imagery to show that. No wonder people are confused! When selecting imagery to use for discussing NFP, show sample charts. Show a couple praying together or having a conversation. Show a healthcare provider who understands NFP. These are the things that establish NFP for what it is and isn’t. If our imagery doesn’t match our message, then confusion is the only reaction we can expect to receive.

  • Being upfront about the realities of NFP. As I mentioned above, I’ve been seeing a lot of great progress with that this year, especially with Total Whine’s incredible NFP series this week. However, advertising it at Pre Cana as the most unifying thing that will ever happen in your marriage is simply false. It’s not. As fallen humans, NFP is never going to be “fun.” It requires sacrifice and communication and vulnerability and trust and that’s the whole point. Trying to sugar coat it is actually doing more of a disservice to couples than anything else.

  • By the same token, a great marketing tool for NFP is also being upfront about the realities of birth control. Think of Ross’s reaction in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. to finding out that condoms are only effective 97% of the time. There is also a huge misconception in the general public that various forms of contraception are more effective than they are. While NFP certainly isn’t foolproof, neither are contraceptives. Talking about effectiveness of all options and their similar rates is a great place to start, because facts are powerful. (Of course, any conversation about fertility awareness should be met with love and free of judgment. Starting with understanding about where a person is and his or her choices is always the first key to any marketing, let alone Catholic, conversation.)

  • Talking about those who have used it right. Almost every NFP testimonial I read is someone who suffers from infertility or someone who has had an outcome contrary to what they were trying for. While being upfront about the realities are important, as they highlight the true nature of NFP (ie. in the end, you have to trust in God’s plan being the right one for you), it’s also important to show some people for whom NFP has worked exactly as they planned! Since so much of NFP is based on human decisions (which can be prone to error), downplaying when it works also isn’t helpful in trying to convince people of its benefits.

  • Promoting the health benefits of NFP outside of fertility. Simply telling women that they will have more information about their bodies and how they work is enough to encourage someone to start charting! It’s amazing how much information our bodies tell us when we simply listen, and that in and of itself is a great God-given gift…and a sometimes much easier and more effective route to begin the conversation with from a marketing perspective.

This is not a post to debate NFP or not (goodness knows I'm not nearly qualified enough to have that conversation), but as a Catholic marketer, it is a great thought exercise to look at contemporary topics discussed in faith like this one and evaluate its marketing strengths and weaknesses.

What would you change about the NFP conversation from a marketing perspective?

~ For His greater glory ~

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